Sheldon Richman of Reason jumps the shark [Darleen Click]
I won’t try to recap the whole case here, but I do want to answer a question that will occur to many advocates of liberty: How can someone who supports property rights in physical objects deny property rights in intellectual products, such as the useful application of scientific principles or patterns of words, musical tones, or colors?
It says a great deal of one’s argument to start out, in the second paragraph no less, with bad faith definitions.
No one, absolutely no one, copyrights “patterns of words, musical tones, or colors”. Diary of a Wimpy Kid contains words and wiggly hand-drawn lines, but it was the author Jeff Kinney who created them. Every music composer uses “tones”, but only Gershwin created Rhapsody in Blue.
If I’ve missed something, please let me know, no one has copyrighted “colors”. The closest are the trademarked Tiffany Blue or Barbi Pink. However, there are a lot of paintings, illustrations, photographs that are the product of their creators, using color as a medium for the creator.
In contrast, “rights” in ideas — patents and copyrights — were government monopoly grants having nothing in common with the notion of property at the heart of libertarianism. In fact, such artificial rights undermine genuine property by authorizing IP holders to enlist government power to stop other people from using their justly acquired resources and ideas. For example, if Jones (having committed no trespass) observes Smith’s invention or artistic creation, Jones could be legally stopped from using his own physical property in conjunction with ideas obtained through that observation. That sure looks as though IP bestows on Smith purported rights over Jones’s tangible property and even Jones himself. One might ask, Isn’t the idea Smith’s? But I can’t see how an idea in Jones’s mind can possibly be Smith’s, even if Smith had it first — unless Smith owns Jones, an unlibertarian notion indeed.
Richman is just as intellectually dishonest in this paragraphy; he conflates ideas, which are not eligible for patents or copyrights, with tangible, physical creations. Inventions, songs, novels, paintings, sculptures — what Richman is advocating would allow people to copy, then sell, the labor of others without any compensation.
Contemplate the inventions and works of art that were produced over millennia without patents or copyrights.
Sure, I can contemplate it. I can contemplate that artisans were sponsored and produced their work for private entities in a time where making knockoffs was close to impossible. The public certainly had little access to these private works when created. Yet, Richman argues we are to make every song, every novel, every invention public property the moment the *idea* takes tangible form.
Yeah, that’s gonna work.
Richman goes on to decry the age of the Robber Barons, making progressives everywhere swoon.
Without the combined influence of tariffs, patents, and railroad subsidies in creating the centralized corporate economy, there would not have been any large corporations even to attempt trusts in the first place. The corporate transformation of the economy in the late 19th century — made possible by the government’s role in railroad subsidies, protectionism, and patents — was a necessary precondition for the full-blown state capitalism of the 20th century.
Let’s repeat: Subsidies, protectionism and patents. One of these things is not like the others. Subsidies are the transfer of money from one private entity to another using government force. Protectionism is using government force to curtail what would be voluntary action in the market place. Patents are a limited time in which the government allows private property to remain under control of the creator. Granting an artist the exclusive right to his or her own work isn’t taking any property away from any other individual or business. It doesn’t interfere in any free market activity — others can deal with the artist or not. Is no Libertarian bothered a scenario based on what Richman advocates where a magazine — say Brides — goes out on the internet, copies all the images they need for a publication, and never compensates the artists because PUBLIC PROPERTY!?
Richman’s closing line is what I opened this post with. It is a leftist-progressive assertion, not “libertarian.” No “property rights” exist if intellectual property rights don’t:
“Patents and copyrights are the legal implementation of the base of all property rights: a man’s right to the product of his mind.”*
*Ayn Rand in 1967 saw the attacks on patents and named them for what they are: collectivist efforts to undermine private property.
Bravo, Sheldon! Here’s your useful idiot card.
Tags: libertarian, patents, property rights, reason magazine, sheldon richman